13 Minnesota Born players to compete in 5-game series

By: Jackson Boline

Two teams remain in the race for the Clark Cup. The Dubuque Fighting Saints claimed the Eastern Conference title and are set to face the top team in the Western Conference, the Fargo Force. 

The Fighting Saints skated to a 41-13-3-5 record, finishing first in the Eastern Conference. They also bring in the USHL’s top goal-scorer Noah Powell. Powell tallied 43 goals and ranked fifth in the league, scoring 74 points. Powell is one of five Fighting Saints who have scored at least 60 points this year; Erik Pahlsson (72), Jake Sondreal (69), Beckett Hendrickson (64), and James Reeder (60).

Jake Sondreal
Beckett Hendrickson
Noah Powell

Dubuque has five players who hail from the State of Hockey, Hendrickson (Minnetonka), Sondreal (Woodbury), Josh Giuliani (Plymouth), and Brandon Mickelson (Moorhead). The State of Hockey had a big impact on the Fighting Saints’ success, helping to get them to the Clark Cup Finals, with Sondreal scoring 27-42-69, and Hendrickson notching 27-37-64, both are in the top five on the team in scoring. Giuliani scored 5-13-18 so far this season. In the playoffs, Hendrickson has scored five points through seven games, while Sondreal is right behind him with four points. 

After a first-round bye, the Fighting Saints played the reigning Clark Cup champions Youngstown. After a game-one loss, Dubuque strung together three straight wins to eliminate Youngstown and move on to the Conference finals. It took just three games for the Fighting Saints to take down Muskegon in the Conference finals, as they advanced to the Clark Cup Finals. 

Fargo is coming off a great season, finishing first in the Western Conference for the second year in a row. The Force head into the Cup finals with a record of 50-10-2, good enough to claim the Anderson Cup, awarded to the team with the top record in the USHL during the 62-game schedule.

The Western Conference champion Force has a total of eight Minnesota natives on their roster. Zam Plante (Hermantown), Jake Fisher (Woodbury), Harper Bentz (Moorhead), Gavin Kor (Rochester), Eddie Revenig (Edina), Leo Gruba (Lake Elmo), Hampton Slukynsky (Warroad), and Anton Castro (Mendota Heights). 

Zam Plante
Leo Gruba

The natives of the State of Hockey on the Force have not only made some noise in Fargo but the entire league. Starting with the USHL Defenseman of the Year, Gruba, who posted 22-35-57 leading all defencemen in the USHL, and had a plus-minus rating of +39. Gruba scored 16-37-53 for Hill-Murray during his high school hockey career. 

The accolades don’t stop there for the Force. Warroad native and former Minnesota’s

Hampton Slukynsky

Frank Brimsek award winner Slukynsky was named the USHL Goaltender of the Year. He posted a 28-3-0-0 record, a .923 Sv%, and a 1.86 GAA. The Minnesota touch for the Force has helped get them back to the Finals for a 2013 Clark Cup rematch against Dubuque.

Mac Swanson 

The Force also have the Forward and Player of the Year in Mac Swanson, who scored 26-51-77 and had seven game-winning goals. Swanson has been huge for the Force in the playoffs as well, scoring 3-9-12 in just eight playoff games.

Brett Skinner

At the helm of the Force is first-year head coach Brett Skinner, who has helped Fargo to be a dominant team all season. The Force started hot winning their first 10 games, which turned out to be the total number of losses they had all year. This season earned Skinner Coach of the Year and Cody Eades GM of the Year accolades.

After their first-round bye, Fargo made easy work of Tri-City, sweeping them in three games, to advance to the Conference Finals where they faced Sioux City. Fargo won game one of the five-game series against Sioux City, but lost the next two games, falling behind 2-1 in the series. Fargo shut out Sioux City the following two games to claim the series win and punch their ticket to fight for a Clark Cup. 

Heading into the Clark Cup Finals, Fargo stands alone at the top of the league with 272 goals scored and allowing the fewest goals with 143. They hold 86.2% on the penalty kill and ranked second in the USHL with a dangerous 31.2% on the power play. 

Dubuque and Fargo meet on Friday night, for game one of the five-game set. These two teams played each other twice during the regular season with the Force winning 4-0 over the Fighting Saints on October 14, and Dubuque winning 4-3 in overtime on November 3. 

Game one of the 5-game series is slated for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop inside Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.